Bluffs resort gets OK for ‘Specific Plan’ process

The luxury resort proposed for the bluffs on the northern edge of Del Mar has been approved for a consolidated planning process that will allow its developers to design the project and seek city approvals at the same time, following in the procedural footsteps of the Del Mar Plaza, L’Auberge Del Mar and the Garden Del Mar project.

The Del Mar City Council on June 19 agreed to break the 16-acre parcel off into its own “Specific Plan” in order to streamline the years-long planning process that lies ahead for the lucrative project, possibly the last large piece of developable coastline property in San Diego County.

The bluffs north of Dog Beach, on Solana Beach’s southern border, is actually three properties that have been owned by different families for more than 100 years. A pair of Encinitas-based developers — the Robert Green Company and Zephyr — announced in February that they had closed deals to acquire the parcels. Their vision is for a luxury hotel accompanied by dozens of villas, a public park, restaurants and walking trails that will allow public access to the coastline.

Last week’s approval allows data-gathering for the Environmental Impact Report to begin right away. Even under the expedited process, city review is expected to take between 24 and 30 months, followed by another year or more of state review through the California Environmental Quality Act and the California Coastal Commission.

Specific Plans have been used three other times in the city’s history, two of which turned into contentious battles that saw razor-thin margins in public votes. While the Plaza and L’Auberge Specific Plans in 1987 were bruising, the Garden Del Mar project of 2008 won 85 percent of its vote. Three pending projects are going through a Specific Plan process, including the Watermark project.

Meanwhile, the city in the midst of overhauling its process for Specific Plans. The council took up the issue on June 19 but did not quite finish.

“Clearly, a Specific Plan is the right way to process a proposal of this scope and magnitude,” said Deputy Mayor Dwight Worden. “I appreciate [the developers’] willingness when the policy isn’t totally locked down yet. It’s an imperfect world and this is the way to move forward.”

But at least one councilmember took umbrage with how the project is playing out in its early stages.

Because of the sheer size and impact of the project, Councilman Dave Druker wants the project to have its own citizen committee, and he is adamant that its Specific Plan go to a public vote for final approval.

“This is a major project, this is going to have a major impact on the city, a major impact on Solana Beach,” Druker said. “If it’s a good project, it will sail through; if it’s a bad project, it will not. I just believe that because this is a major development, we need to have the vote of the people. That’s the way Del Mar works: when we have major projects and major things, we vote on it. I can’t support the way this is going through.”

In May, the developers held two public workshops to show off the property and field input from the community. They have promised to hold three more workshops as designs take shape, as well as launch a website, start a listserv and meet individually with stakeholders and the most affected neighbors.

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